Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yo Yos - From Toys to Textiles

3.5" diameter

In my quest to try every technique known to the art and craft of quilting I recently got enthused about yo-yos - the textile; not the toy...and yet..... I did prize the toy enough as a young girl to have saved a  very special one over all these many years!

When I was a kid my family took the train from Minnesota to California for a vacation. It was a very big deal, believe me! This was my souvenir from China Town in San Francisco.

As an appraiser I've seen quite a lot of examples of yo-yo coverlets. Technically, of course, these textiles are not truly quilts - the usual definition being three layers; a top, fill (or batt) and backing - all held together with quilting stitches.
I searched for examples to study before I started to make my own. Most seem to use a variety of fabrics in a random setting but there are some notable exceptions!

This maker showed her patriotism to the extreme. She used rayon fabrics and even added a border! She chose to stabilize it by backing it with two layers of taffeta. We can see a pink background under the yo-yo's ............
.........but the back is white taffeta. She used pink yarn to tack the layers together, catching only the back so it is invisible from the front. She even applied binding.
Very unusual treatment!

This one can be seen in the book Florida Quilts by Charlotte Allen Williams. Made by Wilma Friedel Ward in Gainesville, Florida in 1949, she calls it "Powder Puff".
60" x 75"   Cotton

Another example - a six pointed star outlined in green.

And a very small-scale example in a block format. Here the maker sewed all the way along each side of the circle -- turning the circle into a square!

How very cool but....I quickly decided that this level of artistry was not necessary for me to experience the 'technique'.
Most instructions I found were very basic:

  • Make a circle (2 inches plus 1/4" larger than your desired finished side)
  • Turn under the edge
  • Baste, gather and tie off. 

I wanted my finished circle to be about 1". One template in my set of plastic circles was just right. I chose some 30's repro fabrics from my stash along with a few solids.
I traced, I cut, I starting turning and sewing, gathering and knotting...but mine didn't look very nice.

What was I doing wrong?

I found more details in an old quilt magazine and tried basting closer to the folded edge. I used longer and more even stitches. That helped. I ripped out a few bad ones and watched them improve.

I played with various arrangements of color.... but I kept going back to the simple random look.

Here's my little project...... It's DONE!

13" x 18" 

My simple version doesn't compare to the more elaborate examples but by trying different techniques on smaller pieces I always learn new skills and gain a deeper understanding of the various design and construction processes.
When I see another yo-yo I will 'understand' and appreciate it all the more!

While working on this post I noticed that a doll given to me some years ago had a yo-yo trimmed slip!

Enjoy the links below for more history of both Yo-yo textiles and the toys which some believe influenced their popularity:

Did you know??
 The yo-yo is considered the 2nd oldest toy in history having been around over 2,000 years!?  (beat out only by the doll)

What is the oldest yo-yo coverlet example you have seen?

Have you  ever made one?
 If so, please share!


  1. Never made a yo-yo in my life, but it is interesting to see such a variety of ways in which they are used. Your little coverlet is very sweet.

  2. Your small quilt is lovely. And you sharpened your yo-yo skills should you ever want to take on a large project like the vintage ones you show. Rayon... my goodness! Cotton is enough to handle when sewing into tiny circles in my book. Interesting post.

  3. Thanks for your ideas on how to make the yo-yo's tighter...I sometimes struggle with that!

  4. Loved seeing the patriotic Yo-Yo!


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